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Walter J. Phillips


We are delighted to offer a new selection of work by renowned English-born Canadian painter and woodcut artist Walter J. Phillips (1884 - 1963) who popularized colour woodcut in the style of the Japanese. His great technical achievements in the medium are unsurpassed. This exhibition includes several of the artist's most coveted colour woodblocks including Summer Idyll, Rest, Zinnias and York Boat on Lake Winnipeg. 

Born in Barton-upon-Humber, England, and encouraged from an early age, Phillips studied art in Birmingham before pursuing a career as a teacher and commercial artist. Despite enjoying early success as a watercolourist in Britain, Phillips emigrated to Canada, settling in Winnipeg in June 1913. He took up the position as art instructor at St John's Technical High School and quickly established himself in Winnipeg's young art community.

Phillips soon became friends with another expatriate Englishman, Cyril H. Barraud, who in 1915 imparted to Phillips a love for the technical craft of printmaking, and etching in particular. Upon Barraud's enlistment in the Canadian army, Phillips purchased his printing press and equipment. In 1917 Phillips began to teach himself colour woodcut printing in the manner of the Japanese artists, and within two years he was catching the attention of the important British art magazine Studio. Throughout the 20s and 30s, Phillips was Canada's most famous printmaker, exhibiting throughout Britain, the United States and Canada, and joining many prestigious international printmakers societies.

Phillips influenced several generations of printmakers and almost single-handedly made the colour woodcut popular with artists across the country through the example of his work and the technical manual he wrote. In Winnipeg, he not only taught many fine printmakers, he also became the city's chief art critic, writing a regular art column for the Winnipeg Herald. In 1926 he helped found the Manitoba Society of Artists.

 In 1940 Phillips took up a teaching position at the Banff School of Art where he continued to teach to until 1959. In 1941 he moved to Calgary and for a time taught at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art. The flowering of printmaking on the western prairies can be attributed to Phillips's presence at both of these schools.

A prolific artist, Phillips produced over 200 prints and many watercolours with subjects ranging from landscapes and still lifes to portraiture. He also illustrated several books.